Children’s Mental Health Week 2022

How oracy can help children to grow together

This week, to mark Children’s Mental Health Week, we’re revisiting resources developed to support mental health and well-being through oracy. This year’s theme for Children’s Mental Health week is Growing Together encouraging children to consider how they have grown, and how they can also help others to do so. We know that 1 in 6 young people struggle with poor mental health and this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

School closures, the national lockdown and continued disruption in classrooms have reduced the opportunities many students have to communicate and connect with others, whilst also increasing their levels of stress and anxiety. To cultivate a sense of belonging, of being heard and understood in the current climate, encourage your students, if they are comfortable, to talk about how they’re feeling. And, whether they’re sharing their feelings, or simply what they had for breakfast, ensure that they feel listened to.

Growing Together throughout the challenges of the pandemic 

As Dr Fiona Pienaar explains in her essay on oracy and wellbeing in Speaking Frankly, the ‘ability to listen and speak are critical components in the development and maintenance of mental health and well-being.’ A focus on oracy can support students to build successful relationships, talk through issues, express feelings and realise their voice has value. To cultivate a sense of belonging, of being heard and understood, it is important to provide students with opportunities to talk about how they’re feeling if they are comfortable doing so.  

In our most recent Oracy October virtual events, we explored the connection between oracy and student wellbeing with an expert panel that shared their tips and advice. There are also a variety of great resources out there that you can use to help guide students through these conversations including: 

  • The Listening Wheel provides students with a space to understand what it means to be an ‘empathetic listener’. The wheel, created by the Samaritans, can be a basis to start to delve deeper into these skills and what it means to really listen. 
  • Exploring micro and macro listening. Watch this video which breaks down how this framework for listening can help students understand what someone is saying and what they’re not saying.
  • A primary-focused home learning challenge uses a Blob Tree to support students to name different emotions and describe how they’re feeling. Blob Trees, which could be used in both primary and secondary contexts, are an excellent prompt for talk; students simply have to choose which blob person they most identify with and explain why. 
We also really like some of the following resources to help start these conversations created by other organisations: 
  • Developing Listening Skills and Expressing Feelings resources from the Samaritans. Easily adaptable for home and in-class learning these can be a useful point to start exploring feelings and emotions. 
  • Watch this video from BBC Newsround that features Michael Rosen talking about why it is important to talk about how you are feeling. 
  • You could also spend time playing the ‘Compliment Game’. Select a student and ask a few classmates to share a compliment about them. You could start one lesson each day this way. Make sure you discuss with students what makes a great compliment. You could use the Oracy Framework to break this down.

A classroom climate in which students feel their voice is valued, respected and heard cannot be cultivated overnight. However, by working towards achieving Voice 21’s Oracy Benchmarks, you are taking steps towards ensuring every student you teach has the confidence and ability to speak up on their own behalf, as well as the means to listen and grow together. 

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